American Dufner leads delayed NZ PGA

BY | Tour | 2006 NZ PGA Championship | Round One | 23 Feb 2006
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United States professional Jason Dufner was first off in the morning and first on the leaderboard at the end of a long opening day at the ING New Zealand PGA Championship at Clearwater today.

Dufner posted a five-under 67 and his score was seldom threatened on a trying day. He holds a two-shot lead over West Australian Brett Rumford, who must return early tomorrow morning to complete his last two holes after play being called off today at 8.30pm.

Lying third at two-under 70 is New Zealand’s best-placed player of the 19 Kiwis, Gareth Paddison, along with three Americans, Chris Tidland, Brandt Snedeker, and D J Bridgman. Snedeke and Bridgman still have a hole to play.

Seven players are on one-under par, including Johnnie Walker Classic winner Kevin Stadler, the American claiming birdies on four of his last five holes.

The weather played havoc with the tournament as well as the scores, with bogeys more plentiful than birdies. Only six groups had teed off in the first round when the resort course felt the wrath of a southerly storm which brought rain, hail, thunder and lightning to the par-72 resort course and forced a two-hour suspension to play.

Although the storm swept on, the southerly stayed all day and made club selection difficult for the 156 players in the $US600,000 Championship, especially with most holes playing crosswind. Dufner said the gusting wind was hard to gauge and at times club choice became a guessing game.

Thirty players in the 156-strong field will return to the course to complete their first rounds.

Although his round was interrupted after only two holes, Dufner probably got the best of conditions as the wind abated for a while at the resumption of play and he made the most of it birdying four of the last five holes and completing the back nine in four-under 32.

He dropped his only shots at the par-4 third and par-3 fourth after hitting his approach over the back at the third and coming up short with a No. 5 iron to the 188m fourth hole. But the gloss was put on his round when he birdied the sixth and seventh, and a sweetly-struck No. 6 iron at the last left him a tap-in birdie, his seventh for the round, at the par-3 ninth.

Dufner must have felt he was due for a change of luck at Clearwater after having missed the cut in four previous visits to the course for the championship co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia and the United States Nationwide Tour.

But he would have questioned that after playing just two holes and having to beat a wet retreat to the clubhouse from the 11th hole.In the break he spent most of his time in the locker room drying out his soaked trousers with a hair-dryer before doing a few stretches, hitting 20 to 30 balls, and heading to tackle the elements again.

“That’s probably the toughest conditions I’ve played in with the temperature low and the wind constantly blowing at about 20mph and gusting up to 30mph,” Dufner, a 28-year-old from Auburn, Alabama, said.

Dufner, who had two top 10 finishes on last year’s Nationwide Tour, has had one previous victory – the Wichita Open in 2001 – and an eighth in the 2004 Chrsyler Classic of Greensboro remains his best finish on the US PGA Tour.

“You really had to play smart and safe today,” said Dufner, who played conservatively, deciding “not to try and make birdies but just let them happen”.

Dufner finished level par and in a tie for 27th at last week’s Jacob’s Creek Open at Royal Adelaide.

“I had three good rounds but had a 79 on the Saturday. I’m pretty happy where my game is at.”

Tidland had three birdies, all on the back nine, and a bogey at the first, while Paddison birdied the holes Dufner bogeyed, the third and fourth, and parred the other 16.

Rumford made a late charge this afternoon, shooting the second best round of the day but still has two holes to play in the morning to complete his first round. 27 players have still to complete the first round.

Play resumes at 7:30am tomorrow morning.

Source – PGA Tour

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